NBI investigates suspected scammers over cross-border credit fraud

The scam being investigated concerns EU citizens that register in Finland, max out on payday loans, and then disappear.

The National Bureau of Investigation is an arm of the Finnish police. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is investigating a series of cross-border crimes in which Finnish banks and registry offices have been manipulated in order to commit wide-scale fraud.

The investigative police unit suspects that organised criminals are behind a number of EU citizens that came to Finland, registered as residents in order to get an ID number, and then opened a bank account. After this, the account and identification data were transferred to the masterminds of the scam, who established fake companies and obtained the maximum amount of payday loans and credit card debt.

The plaintiffs in the case include several finance companies and one international credit card firm. It is suspected that loans and credit cards were granted to over 40 individuals and several fraudulent companies as part of the scheme.

Over 700K in damages

NBI says that damages reported by the plaintiffs in the case total some 725,000 euros.

Ten or so individuals are suspected of having orchestrated the scam, some of whom lived in Finland for a time. Dozens more participated in the actual fraud.

Police have seized numerous credit cards and debit cards, bank documents, and a large amount of IT equipment that they suspect is linked to the suspected offenses. Close to 20,000 euros in cash were also confiscated.

The pre-trial investigation has determined that most of the funds were then withdrawn in cash from an ATM or used to purchase items from online retailers. Some of the money was also transferred abroad.

Online sites hacked

The pre-trial investigation also detected traces of website hacking that targeted several Finnish associations. In some of the cases, the perpetrators successfully downloaded material that should have been unavailable to the public, such as membership lists.

"The data breach targeted fewer than ten small organisations and firms that work on a national level. They are aware of the situation, but I can't say outright whether they have informed their members and employees," says the NBI's chief inspector in the case, Mikko Laaksonen.

Finland's investigative police have worked extensively with several other international authorities to get to the bottom of the suspected scam. The pre-trial investigation compiled a list of over 30 different crimes that are thought to have taken place between late 2016 and the summer of 2017, including aggravated fraud, illegal register use, aggravated breach of data, tax fraud and forgery.

The case will progress to the prosecutor's office yet this autumn.

The NBI says that there have been increased efforts in Finland to establish fraudulent operations like the one in question. Cooperation between the different organisations to prevent, detect and identify fraudulent activity is paramount, the authorities say.